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News :: Gender : Human Rights : Organizing
The Struggle for Equal Marriage: Chicago
18 May 2004
Monday, May 17, 2004 was not an ordinary day.
The Struggle for Equal Marriage
Monday, May 17, 2004 was not an ordinary day. It was a day when Equal Marriage activists and their supporters took the City of Chicago by surprise. Five minutes into the rally outside the Cook County Building, a large blue banner with the inscription “MARRIAGE IS OUR RIGHT!” unfolded from the rooftop.

It happened at the height of downtown congestion, 12:05 PM. Workers, tourists, drivers, shoppers, everyone as far as two blocks away could see it. Suddenly, the crowd of onlookers became too large for the police to handle. From where I stood, I saw all eyes raised to the sky, including those of the Chicago Police Department, whose representatives held ad-hoc meetings, ran around frantically, and temporarily locked the lobby door, denying access into the building. It was the defining moment, the moment which marked the inspiration and optimism that accompanied us the rest of the day.

The US struggle for gay liberation and rights began in earnest in 1969 with the refusal of patrons at New York City's Stonewall Inn to submit to the usual harassment of cops looking for their regular payoff by bar owners. Today, some 35 years later, marriage equality for same sex couples is actually legal in Massachusetts!

Monday, May 17, marked the 2nd National Day of Rallies for Equal Marriage Rights -- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered rights activists and their allies around the country demanded full equal rights, not “separate but equal” civil unions or other compromises. Following their legal victory, a lesbian couple was the first to be legally married yesterday in the State of Massachusetts, after that state’s Supreme Judicial Court handed down a decision that opened the doors to the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The day also marked the 50th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas determination outlawing “separate but equal” institutions for African Americans. This anniversary was particularly significant, since LGBT people are being treated by the political, social, economical and judicial systems as “second class citizens.”

Many of the signs displayed by demonstrators yesterday made that feeling clear, and rightfully so. The Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts ( states that there are over 1,000 rights, benefits, privileges and responsibilities associated with civil marriage (not to be confused with civil union), which are intended to foster the formation and stability of family, promote the well-being of children, if any, and ensure the rights of individuals when families are torn apart by death divorce, or serious illness.

A few examples may help others get a better understanding. In the event of death in a civil marriage, the surviving spouse has the automatic right to inherit even if there is no will. Same-sex couples cannot marry and do not have the automatic right to inherit their deceased spouses estate. Additionally, even if a surviving spouse in a same-sex couple is protected by a will, there are a variety of tax issues that may result, for example, in the surviving same-sex spouse having to sell the house in which the couple lived for decades.
Another example is Social Security. Spouses of persons who have contributed to Social Security by paying FICA taxes are entitled to spousal and survivors benefits. Since same gender couples cannot get married, they are neither entitled to spousal benefits or survivors benefits even though they pay the same taxes. In addition, defined pension plans offered by employers provide benefits to the surviving spouse after the death of the retired worker. Although some companies have voluntarily extended similar benefits to same gender partners, most pension plans do not provide for the partners of retired employees. Surviving spouses of state employees are able to receive their spouse’s pensions for the remainder of their life if they were legally married. By contrast, surviving same sex spouses receive nothing in pension benefits from the state, even if, for example, the state employee was a police officer killed in the line of duty. The inevitable result of these two factors is financial insecurity unless the couple has far greater assets than the typical couple.

Bob Schwartz wrote me this afternoon and, with his permission, I am making some of his thoughts known to others: “Yesterday, when my partner of nearly 9 years and I returned home, one piece of mail waiting to be opened was a four page letter from our attorney advising adjustments to our wills, to ‘tighten them up’ against the growing assault of successful challenge. For the 48 odd hours of her Las Vegas quickie marriage, Britney Spears didn't have to worry about that. Everything would have gone to her spouse in the event of her untimely demise during his brief window of opportunity.
One need not have a romantic attachment to marriage to recognize that there is at play here an important issue of equality besides the numerous material benefits that accrue to the civil contract called marriage. Our enemies certainly recognize this, and although they rarely say so directly, they are intent upon maintaining control through the exercise of hatred and blatant discrimination--if we let them get away with it.

Right on, Bob! We cannot let them get away with it! To quote you again, “The struggle for nationwide marriage equality must continue.”

And so we continued yesterday beyond the sidewalk. Following the animated rally outside, the protesters, chanting “MARRY US OR MARRY NO ONE!“ marched inside the Cook County Building and headed towards the Marriage License Bureau, where couples deposited the required $30.00 and state-issued ID cards on the counters. Their demands for marriage licenses were denied, and Cook County Clerk David Orr refused to meet or speak with any of those who elected him to the office he now holds. His telephone lines were continuously busy; all requests for a meeting were turned down. However, I derived some degree of satisfaction from imagining this master of broken promises hiding under his desk.

A sit-in followed and lasted until the office closed at 5:00 PM. A brochure on one of the counters caught my eye. It is the “How to Apply for a Marriage License in Cook County” and it covers things such as “Where to Apply,” “How to Apply” and “When to Apply.” Nowhere does it say that LGBT couples are not allowed to enter into legal marriage. There is one category though, and them first cousins better watch their backs in the state of Illinois:

Blood relatives, down to and including first cousins, MAY NOT marry under the laws of the State of Illinois. However, a marriage between first cousins 50 years and older is permitted.”

Does anyone happen to know whether County “officials” get tested for heavy drugs? Because after reading through that priceless information, I feel they need to lay off the crack pipes.

A few more serious things about yesterday, though (not that I’m entirely joking about some folks at Cook County) … It was a success. We all felt good about it. We felt it was a victory. We have not won the war against bigotry, but we won a battle. We were seen and heard. We made headlines. Will we be ignored for much longer? I honestly don’t think so. People are fed-up. Will the LGBT community allow the injustice to go on and on and on? I seriously doubt it. Congratulations are in order to all the participants and supporters, and let the fight for equal rights continue!


Pictures from the protest:
See also:

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